Belgium: North Sea Advisory Council gives input to Commission on UN plastic pollution treaty

by Eurofish
Plastic bag in the ocean

While about 80% of marine plastic pollution originates from land, the remaining, yet still significant, 20% comes from water-based human activity, including fishing, shipping, and tourism. It has been estimated that almost one-third of water-based plastic pollution consists of fishnets, traps and longlines, commonly known as ALDFGs (Abandoned, Lost, or otherwise Discarded Fishing Gear) or fishing gear components. The UN is pursuing a legally binding plastic treaty to curb this pollution threat. UN Resolution 5/14, “End plastic pollution: Towards an international legally binding instrument,” was adopted on 2 March 2022, and further UN action continues, not to “end” plastic use but to further incorporate plastic in the circular economy through better product designs, waste management, and recycling systems.

Recently, the Commission received advice on the treaty from the North Sea Advisory Council, an assembly of fishing interests (60% of total assembly members) and other stakeholders (40%). NSAC noted its motivation to offer advice is the fact that fishermen are the largest group of stakeholders that profit directly from a healthy sea. As an expression of its commitment NSAC explained initiatives it and its members have already undertaken to protect the North Sea, including, among others:


− Fishing for Litter: An award-winning project launched by OSPAR where fishers volunteer to bring back to land any marine litter collected in their daily activities.
− Port Reception Facilities (PRF) Directive: A fundamental infrastructure for initiatives such as Fishing for Litter which provides facilities on land to collect and sort the different materials collected offshore.
− TEFIBIO: The goal of the EMFF-funded project is to find an alternative for nylon on fishing nets, one that can be compostable and degradable without turning into microplastics.

NSAC stressed that much more is needed, because these efforts are either voluntary or funded by short-term contracts. Further, the Treaty will need to recognize regional and species-specific differences within the broader fishing “industry” and to design its binding rules to be flexible enough to accommodate those differences, by setting minimum standards while ensuring a level playing field across the diverse array of vessels that ply the North Sea.

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